Seas boil and land burns under the glaring eye of an exploding sun. Mountains, once high, noble peaks, crumble into basins once called oceans. The world is become bereft of life, all scorched clean from its surface. The verdant green of jungles, rustling grasses of the Serengeti and frigid poles all a distant memory, replaced by smoke and ash and rivulets of molten rock marking Earth’s surface. A planet-wide desert of sand melted to glass colored the angry red of the kiln.
An old man watches, skin sloughing from flesh. The end of all things.
He turns to reach out to his flock. The hundreds who still live, huddled in hovels underground, drenched in sweat, in shade, in steaming blood. Their skin drapes loosely from their frames like tattered rags, their clothing, little more than rotten scraps, curls away from their bodies and sizzles in the heat. Their bones, baking, are brittle and hollow. They are starved and thirsty, cuddled up with the dead and the dying, unable to distinguish themselves from those they chase into the grave. Each man, woman and child stares with the listlessness of the hopeless. He must speak to them, comfort them. But what does one say in a moment such as this?
The truth is all that remains.
“It has come…” He begins with a sigh.
“I will not say ‘do not despair’.” His heart grows heavier with every word. “I will not say ‘there is hope’. This is no time for lies.” His image shimmers in wall-high viewers, voice cracking from distortion and desperation in equal measure.
“I say this: Life goes on. If not here, for us, then elsewhere. Life goes on.” His voice, a forlorn rasp, falls on deaf ears, dull eyes. Man does not hear him. They do not care. Their dwindling masses have no spirit left. And why should they? This is the end.
“Life goes on,” He repeats, now for his own sake, eyes fixed on flaming skies, his hopes centered on a single, twinkling ‘star’. One not visible in the wake of a dying sun, yet growing more distant from it and a doomed solar system nonetheless. “Life goes on. Life goes on. Life goes o-” Despite his despair, despite the heat, despite his own smoking flesh, despite joining with a swelling star, despite the death of all he had ever known and loved, the old man smiles knowingly to himself as blistering gas engulfs the world. Mankind, and Mankind’s only home, deliquesce from the universe and into the quiet of history.
Godspeed Roan, our memories and our souls travel with you now. His final thought as his atoms dissipate and are dissembled in the plasmic ether.
Just outside the orbit of Pluto, 7.5 billion kilometers away, a vessel, Motherlode, a planetoid ship the size of our Moon, drifts away from the cosmic cemetery into the inky void of the unknown. Its captain stands planted to the bridge. A gaunt-faced, mournful crew surrounds her, working as silently as the dead as they grieve. Her hands tremble as she thinks to herself:
Life goes on. It must. We. Must.
She turns to survey the men and women who accompany her on the bridge, tapping away at their monitors, piloting the ship to a distance where Motherlode’s long-range drive could be safely engaged and the journey could begin in truth. She clears her throat and speaks, knowing her voice and image are carried to the dozens of others who work in the belly of Motherlode, tending to its multifaceted needs.
“Only the weak die with their Mothers. We daughters, we sons, survivors, we go on. On to forge destinies of our own among the stars. Someday, our children, or their children, or their children’s children’s children will walk upon a new world and they will remember that we… we were the ones who brought them there. There will be a time for smiles again, and for hope. But now? Now we toil until such happier days return. We toil with the songs of those we lost ringing in our hearts.”
She turns back to the monitor at the fore of the bridge, split into eight different screens. Screens that show: various ship functions and their statuses, potential exoplanets which might serve as a refuge, or at the very least Motherlode’s first destination in its quixotic quest across the universe, the luminescent wall of gas arching in fury through space where Earth used to be.
“Life goes on,” She whispers to herself, “But for how long? How long will we linger in the black before we all go mad?”
Her second signals a silent question. She nods in reply, and with a few brusque keystrokes her competent XO engages the velvet screen the width of a world that billows behind the ship. The screen coruscates with the faint glow of energy and rapidly accruing force. A wave of her hand. The glow bursts bright for a moment, and the ship accelerates. Motherlode is underway.
A swelling gulf of darkness separates it from the only home it’s ever known.